Chasing Eldorado

I was now self employed and working from a brick built building at the rear of my father’s shop at Colnbrook near Slough in a space about 7 by 5 metres. I was regretting the move away from Phoenix, made in a fit of pique, because I had only one source of income and that was the decoy pigeons.

I desperately tried to find other grp (glass reinforced plastic) products to sell but that wasn’t easy. An attempt was made at a grp fishpond but that was abandoned as being too difficult to market. Flower boxes on wrought iron stands, door canopies – wrought iron supports and translucent corrugated grp. Some of these things were before their time and appeared on the market many years later backed by companies with a budget and not on a shoestring.

I did buy a speedboat mould from someone in Torquay but I never actually made a boat from that mould myself. A friend, John Minty, borrowed the mould a couple of years on and presumably had a boat made from that mould. When I asked him to return it he refused. When I threatened to sue him he went ballistic as if it were an unreasonable thing to do. This was the third time I was double-crossed. I couldn’t afford to take him to court him so he got away with it unfortunately.

Winter was fast approaching at the end of 1962. It hit with a vengeance on New Years Day 1963 with heavy snowfalls all over the country. I came up with a repair kit for burst pipes comprising a small tin of resin and glassfibre woven tape with a small dropper bottle of catalyst. Labels were printed, a box to put it all in, and printed instructions. Christine’s mother loaned me £50 to pay for an advert in a tabloid newspaper. A few orders came in but not enough. I don’t think the costs were covered.

After scanning gardening magazines for ideas I noticed that greenhouse trays were made of galvanised metal. The tray was partially filled with gravel and plants in pots were placed in the tray and watered. The tray held the water and stopped it dripping all over the place.

I took note of the range available and made moulds in a selection of sizes. An advert was placed in a gardening magazine and a few orders came in but not enough, they did however, catch the attention of a greenhouse equipment supplier called Humex. They gave me an order for a quantity which kept the wolf from the door for a few months.

Barry was working with me in fact I regarded him as an equal partner but there was nothing in writing and I was too tied up with day to day problems to pay it too much attention so sometime in the spring of 1963 he upped sticks and left, I didn’t see him at the time. He had told my mother of his woes but I never got to the bottom of it. His reasons were mostly unclear as relayed from my mother and I was shocked and dismayed at the loss of a good friend.

I had booked a holiday in Spain when I was with Julie but hadn’t cancelled  it. So when the time came in June or July I shut everything down for a couple of weeks and took my first flight to Lloret De Mar or should I say Perpignan, the nearest airport, with Christine. We flew in a piston engined Super Constellation – very noisy and shaky vibrations.

Humex, my greenhouse tray customer, were not amused so whilst I was away they stole my idea and had the greenhouse trays made by another supplier. That was the second time I was double-crossed in business the first being Badger Bartlett and the slipper stern launch job. Over the years, especially when I came back to the GRP business in the late 1980’s, I discovered that double-crossing,  and finding reasons not to pay for work done were common. I had the feeling it was the GRP business and the nature of the work and the customers that was the problem. I will go into that in more detail when we get there. One of them was particularly disgraceful.

I had an interest in boats and kept an ex hire boat at Old Windsor. It was powered by a twin cylinder engine driving a variable pitch propeller. It started up on petrol and continued running on TVO – a sort of kerosene. Before that I had a small wooden rowing boat.

And so I made a mould for a small dinghy, about 9 feet long but there wasn’t enough room to build boats in the Colnbrook shed so I found premises in Maidenhead and  had a telephone installed. Now there was a chance of a proper business and an entry  in Yellow Pages brought an enquiry from Norman Marketing a company operating from Windsor.

They were to supply a number of bus shelters to be erected in the vicinity of the Vauxhall factory at Luton. They were made of aluminium frames infilled with grp panels. It was quite a large order and I needed £200 for materials to get it going. My father refused to help pointblank- surprise, surprise – so I made a case for the bank and got an overdraft to cover it.

In the meantime Ken Schueler of Phoenix Rubber – my previous employer – came up with a requirement for the factory. He wanted a number of containers about the size and shape of a household water tank with handles on. They were to be used in the rubber compounding process where they would be loaded with the various ingredients that had to be added to the raw rubber latex as it went into the processing machine known as the Banbury.

I made about a dozen of these and delivered them to the factory. I then went to see Ken Schueler and handed him the invoice. Without hesitation he rang the accounts department and told them I would be coming over with an invoice and they were to pay it immediately. I got a cheque on the spot for which I was immensely grateful.

A few months later he wanted a way of transporting uncured rubber strips extruded in long lengths for a manufacturer of rubber windscreen wipers. I came up with a shallow round container about a yard in diameter in which the rubber was coiled around a central upstand. Like pallets they could be stacked on top of each other for transport. It was quite an expensive project because I had to have a pattern produced by a wood turner on some sort of lathe.

Ken Schueler was pleased with the final product and again he arranged instant payment. It was a great act of kindness on his part to think of me in that way, something for which I was very grateful.

All in all I was quite busy at this time, and the finances were stable, especially when Norman Marketing deposited a large number of moulds outside the premises and a few orders came in for products from those moulds. The most work came from the manufacture of grp litter bins which were supplied to municipal authorities all over the UK including the famous Fairfield Halls concert hall at Croydon.

In the meantime I was now marketing the dinghy by advertising in suitable magazines. At a price of £29.19.6p it sold fairly briskly. I can’t believe it now but I must have done my sums at the time and costed it so it must have been profitable. I believe my problem at the time was I couldn’t produce them quick enough by myself so I took on an employee, Richard Saint, who was the boyfriend of a friend of Christine’s.

I then bought a couple of boat moulds from a firm near Brighton and managed to sell at least half a dozen 12 foot boats, which I advertised as the Crestrider 12 , “The best of boat worlds”. It was sold for round about £150 which seemed like a lot of money in those days.

The work from Norman marketing had dried up so the boats were the only source of income. It was income but I wasn’t rolling in it, but when my stationery van was damaged when someone slid into me when the road was covered with ice in the winter of 1964 in the region of Dorney Common, I needed transport badly. I believe the insurance company told me it was a write off early on which was a surprise because the offside front wing was the only sign of damage. It had been demolished because it was rotten with rust and that at only three years old.

I had to find another vehicle quickly but I had little money and a pay off from the insurance would take a while. I found a Triumph Herald and signed up for hire purchase. I was told I didn’t need to pay a deposit.

I then discovered that it was known as “cut and shut”. It had been in a write off accident and welded back together from possibly more than one vehicle. I was pretty well pissed off with the situation and when I discovered that the hire purchase agreement was null and void because a deposit had not been paid I refused to make further payments. The finance company were not in a position to pursue the debt as the agreement was illegal so they kept quiet and I got away with it.

I kept on driving the vehicle whilst I had no option but it was a dodgy drive best kept below 4o mph otherwise strange shaking movements came in.

In the meantime production of the dinghy continued and another small dinghy was added to the range. At about eight feet long it was intended to be a tender for owners of larger boats. Not exactly a pram dinghy with a blunt, cut off bow, this one had a rounded bow and looked much like a bath. The rounded bow was more effective than the traditional pram dinghy because it did not tend to dig into the waves when being towed.

The boats were sent to the customers by British Rail if they were some distance away. The cost was very reasonable and they didn’t need packing, not that they could have been. There were no complaints of damage from customers. Any boat orders within a radius of forty or so miles I delivered myself by loading three or four boats on my boat trailer – somewhat precariously I have to say.

An order came from a banker for the Crestrider 12 and he needed delivery to Polruan, Cornwall, where he had a second home. It was decided to combine delivery with a holiday and he agreed we could have use of the holiday cottage for a few days so we could use the occasion to take photographs of the boat in use for publicity. For that purpose he loaned me his 20hp outboard motor.

John Minty and Pauline – who by now were married – came with myself and Christine, or should I say joined us in their own car. The boat, however, was not quite finished when we set off and needed the seats to be fitted and varnished so we spent the first two days at Polruan working on the boat.

The holiday home was a one bedroomed terrace cottage with good views over the Fowey estuary. The view in the bedroom, occupied by John and Pauline, was not to John’s taste however.  Pauline complained that there was no sex because the flowery wallpaper put John off. As for myself and Christine, engaged but not married, sex was out of the question anyway. We shared a makeshift bed in the sitting room but although passions may have run high the final act was most definitely not on. Ball aching it was but that was how things were in those days.

It was exactly the same in the previous four and a half year relationship. The advantage of this way of things was that there were no unwanted pregnancies. The disadvantage, and this is a big one, there was no way of knowing whether there was any sexual compatibility between a couple who would be making marriage vows to be together until death.

The rest of the year lumbered on and business was slow as boats don’t generally sell in the Autumn and Winter. I don’t remember much else happening so a decision had to be made.

And so it was with marriage looming in June 1965 and the need for somewhere to live and indeed a sustainable living it was decided to stop the chase for Eldorado, fold up the business and find suitable employment.

I don’t remember what came first, the job or somewhere to live – it could have been either – because they had to be linked. Firstly somewhere to live. It was obvious that we could not afford to buy a property in the Windsor, Slough area. I can only think that enquiries were made of estate agents, that Hampshire was a preferred location, and that a job was secured near Aldershot.

We found a property near Alton, Hampshire at a village called Medstead. It was a colonial style single storey bungalow type in three acres of land. Colonial meant corrugated iron. Outbuildings comprised a brick built double stable and a large Nissen hut. There was plenty of room to store the moulds of various products. It was the sort of property that appealed very much to Annie and Richard Ford – Christine’s parents but it would not appeal to any building society due to the construction.

And so it was on Saturday, 30th January 1965, that Christine and I were discussing the purchase of the property with the owners in their sitting room. The property was to be sold fully furnished because they were emigrating to Australia. The cost of travel to Australia was the £10 scheme even for pensioners provided they had family there. It was easy to emigrate in those days and so were  lot of other things.

So why is that occasion imprinted so clearly on my mind? Simple, Winston Churchill’s funeral was on their television. We ended up buying everything for the sum of £3000. Christine’s mother provided a private loan which was to be paid back with regular payments and it was interest free.

I even bought their Austin A35 Countryman style vehicle at a bargain price. It was in good condition and ran well but it was not exactly my style, however, it would become the prime source of transport whilst the Triumph Herald would languish in the Nissan hut.

I got a job as Works Supervisor at Readings Plastics, Ashvale, Surrey at wage of £22 per week which was enough money to support a wife on, and support I had to as Christine had to leave her job at Phoenix Rubber once we were living in Hampshire.

And so June the 7th arrived and my 25 years as a single person ended and so begins the era when my GRP experience provided a step up in employment with proper wages, and ultimately, company cars. The days of struggle and poverty were over.

 

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